KEMCO RPGs: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
From the very beginning, SwitchRPG.com has been vocal about
the meme the bite-sized, (sometimes) budget-friendly titles that are KEMCO RPGs. Our staff has supporters on both sides, however – fans and not-so-fans – but our goal has always been to be as transparent about the actual content of these games as humanly possible. While I think we have been successful in that regard, the truth conveyed through our coverage up to this point could very well have fallen, more often than not, on deaf ears due to preconceived notions about the company’s catalog.
The word on the street – anything from KEMCO is a dumpster fire – is only half true at best. The company and its team of co-operating developers have proven many times that they can collectively provide a noteworthy adventure for those with limited funds, little time, or those in need of a palate cleanser between more extensive RPG releases. One should certainly temper their expectations prior to jumping in, which is the idea behind this article. If you’ve been hesitant to invest in KEMCO-published RPGs in the past, or simply want to know more about what to expect from their catalog, then read on!
Modernized Old School
Most KEMCO RPGs play it safe in terms of their general structure, with the overwhelming majority of them being classified as traditional turn-based JRPGs. The key lies in the modernization of that traditional formula, though, as these games provide a myriad of modern conveniences that can help those that abhor the grind. Adjustable combat AI, speed-up functions, and random encounter toggles can make short work of more trivial encounters…but only if you want them to! Fans of the more traditional method can set out in the world at normal speed, no AI, and grind away to their heart’s content!
KEMCO RPGs are very good at respecting the player’s time, from the aforementioned combat tweaks to multiple difficulties and various time-saving mechanics. Whether you are in it solely for the story (bless you) or are wanting an excruciatingly difficult challenge, there’s likely a difficulty setting to meet your specific needs. Fast travel is a common feature in these games, as well, which should come as a relief for those that despise backtracking or want to fully optimize their gametime.
Engaging Progression Systems
More often than not, KEMCO-published RPGs provide multi-faceted progression systems that are both engaging and rewarding. Traditional level-ups are typically doled out at a lighting-fast rate, leading to a very real – and constant – growth in base power. Throw in secondary systems, such as item crafting/upgrading and character/class/party customization, and you collectively have an impressive level of control over your team. While there is nothing wrong with the slower-paced, “chunk” method to progression that many old-school, pixel-based RPGs used, the drip-fed approach will likely be more successful across the board since there is a constant (albeit small) flow of tangible progression.
If it’s bonus content you’re after, then most KEMCO RPGs will have you covered! From monster arenas to new dungeons and bosses, these games almost always have something for the player to do after – or even before – they’ve rolled the credits. This content can also be incredibly difficult, as well, like any proper post-game should be.
The casual, everyday bystander might assume that KEMCO developed all these games when they are actually just the publisher. EXE Create, Hit-Point, and Rideon are responsible for the majority of the KEMCO RPG catalog on Switch, and each developer has their own distinct visual footprint (among other things). The oldest titles from EXE Create are arguably responsible for making a meme out of anything KEMCO, but should certainly not be used as a measuring rod for their entire library. Hit-Point and Rideon may be more consistent when it comes to the visuals, but there are many examples of EXE Create touting some impressive pixel-based art, too – Alvastia Chronicles and Miden Tower immediately come to mind here.
As strong as KEMCO RPGs can be visually, they are no stranger to disappointment either. This, again, seems to originate from the most antiquated EXE Create titles, but also can apply to some of their more “ambitious” endeavors. By that, I mean stunning 3D graphics, and by “stunning,” I really mean awful. At certain points in history, EXE Create experimented with full 3D and hybrid 2D/3D visuals, none of which hit their mark (on the Switch, at least). Although I commend the developers for trying to shake things up, the end result has always proven to be worse than what the oldest straight-2D titles in their lineup provide.
Narrative / Translation
I think we can all agree that KEMCO RPGs aren’t known for their storytelling capabilities. Although they hit a home run (relatively speaking) every now and then – Dragon Sinker, Alvastia, and Miden Tower (among others) have some truly great moments – most aren’t that lucky. Typos and general translation mishaps are a common occurrence even in the most respected entries in their repertoire, further marring the experience as a whole. Even at their best, KEMCO RPGs are very much “gameplay first, narrative second” types of adventures. There are certainly many storytelling moments to enjoy, just don’t go into them wishing for the moon.
Despite the abundance of post-game content, KEMCO RPGs tend to offer very little in terms of side quests. But believe me, this is a good thing. In general, side quests in these games are not narratively compelling, or rewarding, and often have you slogging right back through recently completed dungeons. Bummer! The one and only upside, however, is that they are typically tied to some form of fast travel, making the turn-in process a complete breeze.
KEMCO RPGs offer a variety of difficulty options, but that doesn’t mean you’re immune to getting unjustly slapped around at times. Story modes aside, surprising and frustrating spikes in difficulty can lie in wait based on the game in question. Difficulty spikes aren’t necessarily a bad thing, my issue is only with those that feel so cheap that the player is all but encouraged to make use of the game’s premium shop.
Yeah, I’m talking about microtransactions.
Most (if not all) KEMCO RPGs on the Switch originated from the mobile market – a surprise to no one – so microtransactions are a harsh reality here. While more recent entries have all but removed the most heinous items from their shop, convenient perks are common and remain in. The oldest games, mostly by EXE Create, aren’t shy about providing access to the strongest weapons and armor in the game through gambling mini-games, or through straight-up cash purchases and/or slowly accumulated premium currency. These same titles had a bad habit of going out of their way to show you that premium stuff exists – a trend I’m thankful has waned in their newest offerings.
While some may argue “no harm, no foul” since you could technically ignore microtransactions entirely, you’d still have the issue of some unique items being gated behind a paywall. On top of that, the usage of premium currency – free or otherwise – is an enticing, yet dangerous pitfall for unsuspecting players. It is for these reasons that I never actively partake in these “premium” systems when reviewing games for the site, as acquiring an end-game item at level one will obviously lead to a less-than-ideal experience.
Look, I get it. I’m all for microtransactions that make sense – boosters and random encounter toggles are convenient and fine, I guess – but straight-up game-breaking items should never exist in titles THAT ARE ALREADY BEING SOLD AT A PREMIUM. The Switch tax has hit the KEMCO library especially hard, with their mobile counterparts sometimes retailing for half the price!
Even at their lowest point, however, KEMCO RPGs have proven to hit the budget-friendly JRPG sweet spot that many others simply cannot (or will not) do. And this begs the question: what do you think about KEMCO RPGs? Are you a fan of that itch they can sometimes scratch, or do you think they are hot garbage? If the former, what are some of your favorite games in their library? Also, I’d love to hear about any additional points that might be helpful to newcomers to the KEMCO RPG experience!
Want to know what we think are the best KEMCO RPGs on the Switch to date? Stay tuned in the coming weeks for just that!